I'm visiting my brother and his family and offer to spend a bit of time showing my sister-in-law and her daughter-in-law some yoga breathing. Both have plenty of sources of stress in their lives so I decide to show them the septum breathing that I regularly teach in class as it is so relaxing.
Sitting upright in dining chairs with their eyes closed to aid concentration and minimise distraction I invite them to picture the breath entering the nostrils softly either side of the septum (the central cartilaginous ridge that separates the nostrils and gives our nose its distinctive shape) as they inhale. They continue to exhale normally through the nose to start with.
By keeping the nose soft and relaxed on the inhalation, so that the nose is not pulling the air in in but purely a conduit through which the air passes in response to differences in the air pressure in the lungs and the room as they breathe, I encourage them to become aware of the subtleness, softness and steadiness of the breath as they breath in. There is no jerkiness or change to the speed of movement of the air when breathing if the movement of air is being solely governed by the difference in air pressure between the room and the lungs. Once happy that the inhalation is working nicely, I ask them to keep the inhalation going as before, but now to change the exhalation as well, picturing the exhalation softening the sides of the nostrils with no sense of the nostrils pushing the air out.
Breathing in this way softens the nose and relaxes the face and for many people has a very calming effect and can also act as a cue for sleep. A student of mine who meditates regularly tells me that this is how she is breathing when she meditates. Students have also told me that it can help with sinus problems in both the cheeks and brow. Although I have no sinus problems myself, I often experience a little popping sound when I breath this way, which I believe is a sinus unblocking.
Students have also reported that it can help with asthma, hayfever and rhinitis. Since it promotes a widening of the nostrils, it can help with breathing through partially blocked nostrils due to a deviated septum or as a result of a cold. It is also serves as a mild and unobtrusive cooling breath since by keeping the nostrils dilated it reduces the ability of the nose to warm the air passing through. More of my students use this as a technique for getting to sleep and/or getting back to sleep after waking up in the night than any other breathing technique I teach. Either the softening of the nose and/or the breath appears to be strong invitatinof for the body to sleep.
Before starting the septum breathing I sometimes ask students to count the number of breaths they take in a minute. They then practice the septum breathing itself for perhaps five minutes or so. Then they return their breathing to normal and count the number of breaths they take in a minute for a second time. It is very common for there to be a significant drop in their breathing rate.
My sister-in-law's breath count drops from 24 to 14 breaths per minute.
Her daughter-in-law's breath count drops from 16 to 10 breaths per minute.
Unsurprisingly they both found it very relaxing.
As with any other yoga practice, if you do not feel that this practice is right for you do not do it and you should stop if you suffer any discomfort or adverse effects when performing it; use an alternative relaxed breathing technique instead.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT PERFORM SEPTUM BREATHING WHEN YOU NEED TO MAINTAIN CONCENTRATION.
How do you know you're actually doing it? You should notice some or all of the following:
- There is no sense of the nostrils either pulling the air in on the inhalation or pushing the air out on the exhalation - rather the nostrils remain passive and purely the passageway through which the air flows.
- The inhalation feels cooler than before. By not narrowing on the inhalation the nostrils do not warm the air as much as usual.
- The relaxed nostrils feel wider and very open and on exhaling you may have a sense of them sottly flaring.
- The breath is very soft, slow and steady with no jerkiness or changes of speed to the flow of the breath. If there is then that is down to something else you are doing. The movement of the air on both the inhalation and the exhalation is purely due to the difference in pressure between the air in the lungs and the air around you. It may become difficult to tell precisely when the inhalation becomes the pause at the end of the inhalation and the exhalation becomes the pause at the end of the exhalation.
- You may experience a sense of spaciousess extending back beyond the nostrils and inside your head.
- You feel progressively more relaxed and possibly soporific.
- If you time your breathing before and after practising this breathing technique, your breathing rate may well reduce. It is better to have practised the technique several times on previous occasions previously and to have observed some of the other changes to the breath before timing the breath, so that you are already familiar with the technique and felt more relaxed at the end. A reduction of 20% or more is common and a reduction of 50% is not that uncommon.